NAYPYIDAW — U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders who gathered in Burma to discuss issues ranging from rival claims over the South China Sea to threats posed by the Ebola virus offered tepid expressions of concern Thursday and no firm commitments.
But some experts still say it was more than just a talk-shop.
While agendas and the outcomes are usually reached months in advance, Panithan Wattanayagorn, a professor at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said such meetings “allow heads of state to meet directly and exchange ideas, to prioritize and reflect on them.
“Much of it is about showing unity,” he said, and building trust.
Millions of dollars are spent hosting Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the East Asia summits, which were held back-to-back Wednesday and Thursday in Myanmar’s purpose-built capital, Naypyidaw.
Obama, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi were among 18 leaders attending. And it was the first ASEAN summit for newly elected Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
In recent years, journalists flown in to cover the annual gathering have only been granted superficial access to officials. And Burma, which ran the event with military-like discipline, a legacy of a half-century of dictatorial rule, kept the press farther from participants than most hosts.
Below are some of final statements and comments made on the sidelines:
The South China Sea
Territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which is of tremendous strategic importance to everyone, including Washington, need to be solved peacefully and through dialogue. Southeast Asian nations and China should work toward the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.
While not on the official agenda, recent backslides of Burma’s once-heralded reforms were raised on the sidelines, as were expressions of “deep concern” about persecution of country’s stateless Rohingya Muslims. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged President Thein Sein to address the issue of citizenship — an underlying issue behind violence and systematic discrimination. Obama vowed to deliver the same message during his meeting.
Ebola poses a global threat to peace and security and relief assistance is needed to help fight the deadly virus in the hardest-hit West Africa nations, home to most of the world’s 5,000 deaths. When necessary, leaders from Southeast Asian nations will seek technical assistance from the World Health Organization to help detect and respond to public health threats.
Islamic State Group
Participants reiterated that they supported efforts to restore law and order inside Iraq as it – and the world at large – struggles with threats posed by the Islamic State group. They called on Iraq and international partners to ensure the protection of civilians and access to humanitarian assistance for those affected by the conflict. They demanded the immediate, safe and unconditional release of all those who are kept hostage by the group or associated individuals and entities.
Participants underlined the importance of peace, security and stability on the Korean Peninsula and stressed the need to return to six-party talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Those talks, which brought together China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, broke down in 2008.